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Haymarket - Pickwick The Musical

4th December 2001 to 5th January 2002.

These are the NWN reviews.

The tales of two critics

'PICKWICK THE MUSICAL', at The Haymarket Theatre, Basingstoke, until Saturday, January 5

'Business is Booming' states the opening song from 'Pickwick' and I am pleased to report that the box office at the Haymarket is indeed doing brisk business for this welcome alternative to pantomime.

Emanating from the Lionel Bart school of musical theatre back in the '60s, 'Pickwick' was written at the instigation of Harry Secombe who made the part his own for more than three decades. Steve Elias plays the eponymous hero here and, if a trifle young for the role, he possesses a big voice and is certainly light on his feet, except when he falls through the ice at the end of the amusing skating sequence which closes act one.

Amidst the furore surrounding the lack of live music at other venues, director Alasdair Ramsay has found a partial solution to the problem by employing a hard-working team of actor-musicians who not only sing, dance and play musical instruments but also have the unenviable task of changing the scenery.

Lighting designer Simon Hutchings has tried hard to enliven a rather drab set consisting of moving staircases and wooden-slatted screens. Against this sombre background the onus is on the actors to provide the sparkle but the production seems to have lost some of its charm in the translation from page to stage.

With one or two exceptions, the colourful names of the characters - Nathaniel Winkle, Tracy Tupman, Sergeant Buzfuz et al - are not as yet matched by equally colourful performances. David Shimwell cuts a very sprightly figure as Jingle, proving to be 'a bit of a character' in the seductive 'There's something about you'. Polly Highton's larger-than-life Mrs Bardell makes the most of the lyrical 'Look into your heart'. I also liked the appropriately-named Christopher Dickins' portrayal of Augustus Snodgrass.

On the whole the choral singing was impressive but, in the absence of microphones, some of the wordier solo lyrics were in danger of being lost in the occasionally-strange musical arrangements. The most famous song, 'If I ruled the world', cries out for a fuller accompaniment than a mere brass quartet.

The final Christmas chorus is suitably festive but despite my 'Great Expectations' I found this Dickens adaptation to be more of an 'Old Curiosity Shop'.


Couldn't stop laughing

On Monday, December 10, I went to the Haymarket Theatre in Basingstoke, where the magical story of the Pickwick Papers took place. It was magnificent the way they made the changing of scenery look so natural, they also made the change of characters quite funny, with the basic storyline they also had other storylines going on at the same time.

I don't want to give much away about this fantastic story but it's too hard to keep it to myself, it is great, the laughter in the audience was ear-piercing. After the interval, when I had settled in to the storyline I couldn't stop laughing.

The way they made it feel like you were actually in the play and the way they involved the audience was fantastic.

But like I said, I don't want to give too much away so you will just have to go and see it for yourself but, be warned, you will not be able to stop laughing.